HC Deb 24 April 1989 vol 151 cc640-2
4. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking to avoid overcrowding on London buses, trains and London Underground; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Channon

The only long-term cure for overcrowding is to increase capital investment in public transport. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that investment on London railways is now at record levels, and that London Regional Transport alone will be investing well over £1 million a day in London's transport systems.

Mr. Greenway

I welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance that investment is at record levels. However, is he aware that on London's bus, train and Underground services at most hours of the day and night people cannot move because they are so overcrowded? Is he further aware that it is predicted that within a short time surface traffic will come to a standstill if nothing is done and we will be unable to move either above or below ground? Will he initiate new underground lines and more trains and will he get rid of one-man operated buses and bus lanes and do everything that he can to get London's traffic moving?

Mr. Channon

I cannot agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. However, I agree with him entirely about the need to improve London's rail services, whether Underground or Network SouthEast. He will be pleased to learn that Underground investment is now about twice as high in real terms as it was in 1984–85, the last year of the Greater London council. I am sure that he will also be pleased to learn of the enormous investment in Network SouthEast since 1983—some 16 major schemes together worth over £500 million—and there is much more investment to come. The central London rail study and the east London rail study, about which my hon. Friend will know, show that much more improvement is necessary in London, which the Government are prepared to make.

Mr. Spearing

Is the Secretary of State aware that London Transport has confirmed to me that there are fewer trains running in peak hours on some Underground lines than there were 50 years ago and in the early 1950s? Is he aware that there are fewer trains arriving at Westminster on the District and Circle lines than there were 50 years ago, to the disadvantage of people living in places such as West Ham and Plaistow? Does he agree that, as a matter of urgency, some of the investment of which he speaks should be spent on restoring the signalling arrangements that used to be available for those trains so that more trains can be run on existing lines?

Mr. Channon

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that recent investment approvals include the provision of extra trains and the Central line modernisation, which is running at over £700 million. It is an enormous scheme. They also include the reconstruction of Angel station, enlarged ticket halls and escalators at Liverpool street, new ticket halls at Tower Hill and a massive expansion of investment in London Underground all over London.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an urgent need for more and longer trains and for new lines on the overground such as the opening to commuter services on the west London line, and on the Underground such as the long overdue link to Clapham junction?

Mr. Channon

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a need for investment. He pointed out the need for investment on the Underground and I know of his constituency problems about that. I have described that investment to the House. There is also a need for investment in Network SouthEast. My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn—I am sure that he knows already—that over £2 billion of investment on electrification, signalling and rolling stock has taken place on British Rail in the past few years. I have recently approved another £60 million, or thereabouts, for Network SouthEast, new rolling stock for the Chiltern line, and the Cambridge-King's Lynn electrification. We also have large British Rail renewal programmes which are likely to increase.

Mr. Tony Banks

Is the Secretary of State aware that the biggest complaint on transport matters that hon. Members on both sides of the House hear arises from the installation of the ludicrous ticket barriers throughout the Underground system, which is giving rise to a great deal of congestion on the stations? Is the Secretary of State interested in the fact that I intend to introduce a Social Crimes (People's Tribunal) Bill soon and that when I have arraigned before the people's tribunal the idiots who got rid of trams and trolley buses, I shall then try to arraign those who introduced the ludicrous and unacceptable ticket barriers? If the Secretary of State does not want to appear before the people's tribunal, will he ensure that London Transport gets rid of those barriers because no one wants them?

Mr. Channon

It is particularly appropriate, 200 years after the French revolution, that the hon. Gentleman should start to be the Robespierre of London by introducing people's tribunals. It is typical of him.

On his serious point about the safety of the Underground ticket system, he will know that we are expecting a consultants' report and the House will be interested to have that.

Mr. Stanbrook

Whatever steps my right hon. Friend takes, will he please not deregulate London taxis or license mini cabs to ply for hire because if he does so, he will destroy one of London's biggest assets?

Mr. Channon

I take note of what my hon. Friend says. We have no plans to license mini cabs in the way that my hon. Friend describes. I note the strong views of hon. Members about taxis, which we shall consider carefully.

Ms. Ruddock

The Secretary of State has spoken mainly of trains, but as improving the railway network will take much time and as a substantial bus programme could be implemented quickly, will he instruct London Buses to put on the road the 30 Routemasters that are roadworthy but sitting unused in garages? Will he support proposals to strengthen bus lane rules to prevent lanes being clogged by cars? Will he instruct the traffic control support unit to step up its programme of bus priority at traffic signals, which is enormously beneficial and could be implemented within six months?

Mr. Channon

I am not sure that I agree with all the hon. Lady's remarks. There is considerable controversy about bus lanes; many hon. Members believe that in parts of London they have been put in the wrong places. I shall consider what the hon. Lady said about that. She will be pleased to learn that bus miles have increased significantly and that a further increase of 5 per cent. is planned for this year. Reliability is improved and we shall have more high-frequency mini bus services. Tendering has much improved bus services in London, and I shall welcome her support for all those measures.

Mr. Molyneaux

Can the Secretary of State do anything to persuade London Transport to open the Piccadilly line at Gloucester Road? Many travelling interests, especially those using Heathrow airport, wrote to London Transport about the problem as far back as a month ago. Fairclough, the main contractor, is showing no sign of urgency. Is it not deplorable that visitors from overseas arriving at Heathrow are treated to such a demonstration of incompetence?

Mr. Channon

I shall certainly look into what the right hon. Gentleman says. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks show that there are bound to be short-term problems while a large investment programme is going on. I shall consider specifically the point that he brings to my attention and write to him about it.